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What You Can Do to Keep Your Top Talent from Bolting

Given today’s tight labor market, employers would be smart to make internal mobility a higher priority.
By: | February 25, 2019 • 2 min read

If there ever was time to embrace the practice of internal mobility, it would be now.

As Phenom People Chief Evangelist Ed Newman pointed out during his breakout session titled “Internal Mobility: The Cold Hard Facts” at last week’s Recruiting Trend & Talent Tech LIVE in Las Vegas, unemployment is the lowest it’s been since 1969 and, as a result, there’s been a steady increase in the number of people quitting their jobs to take positions elsewhere.

Newman cited one study that estimated roughly 27 percent of the workforce is at a “high risk” of leaving.

The good news, he said, is that 66 percent of employees would prefer to look inside their organizations for a new and better position. The bad news, he added, is that most organizations don’t have the programs and policies that are needed to address that preference.

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In fact, many of the policies and practices in place today actually block internal mobility from happening. One example of this, he said, is the common policy of preventing employees from moving to a new position internally during their first 12 months of employment.

Maybe they can’t look for a job internally, he said, but that doesn’t prevent them from looking for one externally.

When it comes to internal mobility, Newman said, HR has its “hands off the wheel” and “lets the manager control what happens. Employees want to have a great career with their employer. But managers want to keep their talent and [with the help of HR, through its inaction] block them from moving internally.”

Not surprisingly, he said, many employees become frustrated and leave anyway.

Newman pointed out that the two main reasons employees move on is the lack of career advancement and developmental opportunities. Money is No. 3.

In response, he said, employers need to replace this “birdcage mentality” with a “bird-feeder mentality.” Put another way, rather than holding them back from moving, employers need to give them reasons to stay.

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One of the key drivers of attrition, Newman said, is performance ratings, especially the use of forced-distribution rankings. Specifically, he said, those who are being rated a two on a five-point scale, with one being highest, end up being the most likely to depart.

“They believe they should be No. 1,” Newman said. “But what we tell them is that the 5 percent increase they were given was 2 percent higher than the normal 3 percent.” That reasoning, he said, only goes so far when someone is getting external offers that are 10 percent higher.

To address the problem of talent attrition, he said, employers need to do a better job empowering HR to identify promotional opportunities and look internally for candidates. He cited as an example one company that lets its talent-acquisition leaders “tap anyone on the shoulder” and move them into an open position.

Perhaps it can’t be applied to every position, he said, but giving HR the latitude to go out and find internal candidates for at least certain positions would go a long way in preventing talented employees from leaving.

David Shadovitz is editor emeritus and former editor and co-publisher for HRE.

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